Where should medical marijuana facilities be permitted in Lemont? That’s a question village officials may have to address if Illinois lawmakers enact legislation to allow medical marijuana in the state.
At the beginning of the new legislative session last week, State Rep. Lou Lang (D-16) introduced House Bill 1, also known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. As introduced, the bill proposes to allow doctor-diagnosed patients (and their caregivers) who are registered with the Department of Public Health to “legally possess no more than six cannabis plants and two ounces of dried usable cannabis.”
Among other provisions, the one-paragraph introductory bill specifies that the department of public health must set rules for considering “applications for and renewals of registration certificates for medical cannabis organizations.” On Tuesday, HB1’s status was “re-referred to [House] rules committee.”
What would happen locally if legislators approve medical marijuana?
During the Lemont Village Board’s Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night, Village Attorney Jeff Stein recommended that in preparation for possible passage of the legislation, the village may want to begin discussions at the plan commission level to determine where medical marijuana distribution facilities would be permitted in Lemont.
“What most communities have done is to be a little proactive,” Stein said. "At this point, we don’t need action immediately. We can have the plan commission look at it now or wait until the legislature acts upon it.”
James Brown, Lemont’s planning and economic development director, said in an email to Patch that although the proposed legislation preempts municipal authority to wholly prohibit medical marijuana disbursement facilities within municipal borders, it does allow municipalities to regulate the location of such facilities from a zoning standpoint.
“Our zoning regulations place limitations on location and operation of all kinds of businesses,” Brown said.
According to Brown, for most zoning amendments, such as changes to either the text of the zoning regulations or the zoning map, the procedure works like this:
- Staff evaluates various options for limits on the location or operation of a particular type of business.
- Staff prepares a report that provides background information and forwards suggestions, often with alternatives, for consideration by the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC).
- The PZC conducts a public hearing on the matter. The hearing provides stakeholders and concerned residents the opportunity to voice their views.
- The PZC, having heard public testimony and read staff's evaluation, forwards a recommendation to the Committee of the Whole for consideration.
Brown said the key phrase in the above procedures is "limits on the location or operation."
“The most obvious form of such a limitation would be to allow such medical marijuana distribution facilities in only one zoning district,” Brown said. “Another option would be to require a special use approval. Special use approval requires a discretionary review by the Village Board, and we could attach reasonable conditions above and beyond requirements of the zoning code to such approvals.”
Lemont Police Chief hopes state legislators’ efforts will fail
"I’m very opinionated on the topic of medical marijuana and am involved with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police to try to defeat this legislation,” said Lemont Police Chief Kevin Shaughnessy. “I think any police officer who deals with the effects of drugs and sees its effects on kids, on families, feels that way.
We see that [marijuana] is a gateway drug that leads to harder-type drugs. To use it as a medical treatment opens up a can of worms we just don’t need right now.”
Shaughnessy said he is troubled by what he has seen in other areas where medical marijuana is being distributed, and he is worried about the effects the proposed legislation could have in Lemont.
“What happens in communities where medical marijuana facilities are is that it transitions into medical marijuana mills,” Shaughnessy said. “There are some doctors who will prescribe [medical marijuana] for any reason, and then people are flaunting it under the guise of having an illness. I don’t think it’s a good option. We have enough vices in life. We don’t need another one.”
Lemont’s police chief said he wonders why some legislators are focusing on medical marijuana as a miracle drug – and he questions their motives, as well.
“Why do they want the legislation passed so badly? I get upset that they are hiding behind critical illness,” Shaughnessy said. “I think medical marijuana is just a red herring.”
“The lobbying that goes on for medical marijuana – I question that,” the chief added. “I know there is some big money involved. If you scratch away the surface, you’ve got to ask where the money is coming from.”
Regardless of his opposition to the legalization of medical marijuana, the Lemont police chief said that ultimately, his duty is to enforce the laws that are on the books.
If the law is passed, we’d have to abide by it,” Shaughnessy said. “We must comply with the law, so if [medical marijuana legislation] is passed, we must identify a zoning area where that type of activity would be appropriate, such as not near a school or church.
“What I’m hearing is that every community would have to make space available for a medical marijuana dispensary if somebody chose to do it – but I’m hoping we don’t get to that point.”
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